Module 1 – Journalism Basics
Part 1 – Gathering information
How journalists gather information for their stories? Here’s a quick read to know the basics.
If you’re tasked to do an article that requires statistics or research findings, this guide by Panos London gives a how-to on gathering that kind of information (read pg 2-4).
Part 2 – Attribution
Why do we need to attribute: For credibility, to make our stories more reliable and stronger.
But aren’t we credible in the first place? Of course we are! However, as much as we want to be jack of all trades, we still need an expert to talk about specific things. Unless we have an expert with us, e.g. Pauline as chef, or doctors, it’s a must to cite sources. Part of our job as journalists is to convert that expert speak into layman’s terms, making uninteresting tidbits of information digestible.
But watch out: Speaking of credibility, are we sure that our source is credible enough? It helps to do a background check.
How do we attribute? How do we make information digestible?
- Direct quoting
- Combination of a direct quote and a paraphrase.
- The use of “said.” Use “said” and not its synonyms because other words might insinuate something.
- Punctuation. Commas and periods go inside the quote.
- The use of “according to” is acceptable when used in reference to written sources (newspapers). Use “said” when referring to people.
- Partial quotes. They are usually an impactful part of a long sentence.
What are the things to be attributed?
- Facts not in dispute. When it’s a universally accepted fact, then there’s no need to attribute.
- Reporter’s observations.
- Multiple sources. When three or more credible sources say the same thing, we can consider it as factual.
- “He said, she said” shows comparisons or disagreements and adds noise to a story. Reserve it to narrative stories.
- On the record.
- Off the record. Anything in the interview that’s off the record is for the reporter’s use only and cannot be published.
- On background when sources can’t be directly attributed to a specific person (e.g. marketing guy gives an info approved by their company, but you need to attribute Company XXX)
- Not for attribution. “A (high-ranking/senior) official in the XXX government agency,” “a journalist at beijingkids.” In short, the interviewee agrees to be attributed but not be named.
- Anonymous sources. Try to avoid them for regular stories — unless we do an investigative or police reports, or when naming endangers interviewees’ lives. Always explain why they chose to be anonymous
Is over-attributing bad?
Unless you’re writing an academic paper, then sort of. In blogs, hyperlinks can be used as much as we want. But does it make sense? While we want our articles to be reliable and credible, an ideal practice is to limit attributions to the most important sources (two or three) and hyperlink background information.
Part 3 – Interviews
- Define your message. What do you want to say? Why do you want to say that? How will you say that (in what form? Charts? Photographs? 300-word narratives?)
- Make a framework of your article, especially if it needs more sources.
- Plan the logistics: location, time, editorial requirements, model release; follow SOPs
- Get background info of your interviewees
Face to face? Phone? Email?
- Decide which one works for you and your deadline.
- Face-to-face works best in most cases as you interact with your interviewee and see body gestures.
- A phone (or Skype) interview is ideal when your interviewee is away/overseas. But one issue is noise/garbled messages.
- An email interview is best for quick stories but usually tends to be dry and manufactured.
- Prepare everything – from documents and charts, to notebooks, to recorders. For email interviews, use hyperlinks and show charts.
- Always have a backup.
Be sneaky. Work your interviewee up.
- Make a connection. What is that something that connects the both of you?
- “Tell us who you are.”
- Boring and laconic responses? Ask whys and open-ended questions. Instead of asking questions, have them share a story. Remember that we want stories, not manufactured quotes.
- Reword your questions.
- Listen to keywords.
Clarify unclear statements. Review notes. Say “Thank you.”
- Go back to questions that you feel are not answered thoroughly.
- When summarizing, go back to your notes and tell them the things they said by using the keywords you gather. Chances are they will elaborate their response, or that keyword will evoke a memory of a story or make your interviewee remember something.
- Move your new connection forward by saying “Thank you” to your interviewee — after the interview. Send them a copy of the column/blog.
The following links are a great resource when you need to interview for your articles:
1. 30 Tips on How to Interview Like a Journalist
2. The Art of the Interview – Columbia Journalism Review